How to Find Lake Superior Agates in Gravel

How to Find Lake Superior Agates in Gravel

This summer thousands of locals and tourists alike will descend upon beaches along the shores of Lake Superior looking for it’s prized gemstone the Lake Superior agate. Also called lakers or LSA’s Lake Superior agates are everlasting snapshots of the earth’s inherent beauty captured in stone. If you’re not into LSA's you likely haven’t been properly introduced! Beaches are the most searched areas for agates. I’ll get into how to find agates on beaches in a future post but for now let's focus on a lesser used skill set that can lead to really impressive results, finding agates in road gravel. Once you master this skill you will literally be able to find agates anywhere you go within their range. Lake Superior agates can be found throughout Minnesota, in the northern and south western counties of Wisconsin and into the UP of Michigan. There are other geographical areas that are worth searching as well but these are the ones we focus on ourselves. If you’re in an area that has lakers present in the ground in good numbers then anywhere there is gravel is a potential hotbed for agates. Agate hunting is a fun family activity that while not being overly strenuous is still good exercise. 

Before you go agate hunting it’s good to learn what one looks like. I recommend picking up a book or two and spending time looking at the pictures. Looking at rough pictures of lakers on ebay can also help. The Lake Superior rocks and minerals field guide is one book I own and look through often. When walking dirt roads or trails it’s important to bring along the right gear. Go unprepared and you roll the dice on whether the trip will be enjoyable or one of those things you rather you hadn’t done. When I search gravel (even when it’s hot) I wear lightweight bug proof pants, bring along a light long sleeve shirt that mosquitoes can't bite through, boots or shoes that cover your ankles, a hat to keep sun out of your eyes and a neck gaiter up over my face and under my hat. With this type of clothing you’ll be able to fend off the bugs you encounter in summer while still enjoying the search. I also like to bring a water spray bottle and always keep bug spray and drinking water in the car. 

Here’s a gear list: 

Long sleeve mosquito proof shirt

Lightweight breathable pants tight weave for bug protection

Neck gaitor


Water spray bottle

Bug spray

Bottle of water

When searching roads or trails for agates, safety is important. Keep your eyes and ears open for vehicles. Alert your party to any oncoming traffic and move your entire party off to one side when they pass. If you’re walking along a highway it’s recommended to walk on the side facing oncoming traffic. Stay right with small children. Avoid having your party strung out in a line. Staying close together gives you more time to talk and makes the finds more fun.

How to SEE agates: There are several strategies I use  to see agates in gravel but there’s one that’s most important regardless of what type of gravel or where you may choose to search. The biggest secret to success is to walk facing the direction of the sun while you are searching. When walking into the morning or evening sun the light will illuminate the semi transparent agates in a way that once you are seeing them they appear shine like they’re glowing while the other rocks appear dull in comparison. With the right sun angle I can often see an agate 15 ft away. My favorite time of day to search has been 2-8 p.m. in summer. Agates are very hard to see mid day. The best days to walk trails are fully bright sunny days with a good breeze to keep the bugs down. 

If I’m out searching and for whatever reason I cannot walk into the evening sun or it’s a bit overcast then I will focus more on color or shape. Agates formed in bubbles in rock so the bigger ones are often rounded or egg shape. Even when broken, part of them will often have these shape characteristics. I also look for color. Most lakers are orange or partially white. I’ve picked up thousands of random orange rocks looking for agates on cloudy days. If you want to trim down the amount of stones you pick up “to check” and discard, that's where the water bottle comes in handy. Spray any “maybe an agate rocks” with the water before bending down to pick them up. It’ll remove the dust from the stone and can greatly reduce the number of times you bend over unnecessarily. If you’re in an area that has good amounts of agates it’s best to walk slowly. You’ll see more of them moving slow and may find more larger agates. Once you walk a road a few times you’ll notice which areas are good and which are lacking. On future trips move faster through the lacking areas and slow down and really search the good spots.

Where and after when you search gravel for agates is also important. Gravel roads are often graded. Following which the gravel has been effectively turned over and new unseen agates are brought to the surface. This is where the “after, when” comes into play. After a road is graded it’s best to wait till it’s been cleaned off with a good rain so you can see the agates well. So go after grading but when it’s recently rained for best success. Where you search in the road area is important as well. I like to first walk along the edge because it’s more likely to be clean so the agates are easier to see. I’ll then walk wherever along the road has the highest concentration of gravel. If I’m looking only for larger agates I’ll concentrate on sections of roads where you see stones embedded in the road. Some of the largest road agates I’ve found I dug from the base underneath the gravel. 

Now that you have the strategies to be successful here are a few pictures of agates as they appear in road gravel. The handful in the last picture is from just a couple hours of searching. If you set out to be an agate hunter it’s important not to get discouraged. You’ll have some small successes at first and lots of days where you don’t find much. Keep at it, focus on these strategies, and the more you go the more you’ll find. 

Do you see the small agate in this picture? If not view the second pic and then come back to the first until you see it. As I was teaching the kids to find agates I'd often circle the small ones on the trail walking just ahead of them and then let them "find" them. It's a great way to teach kids how to see them. Now they often find more than I do!

This next one is in three shots starting from where I saw the agate to - standing above it to - just a foot and a half away. There were two one big and one small with the big one being an amazing banded paint LSA which you can also see in the last pic in my hand for perspective.


While the kids often now pick up more small agates and fragments than I do I still often come out with more larger agates. The bigger ones do not glint as strongly in the sunlight so to really get good at seeing those you need to use all the strategies together to give yourself the best odds of seeing them.


Back to blog